India, Pakistan to remain U.S. concern


NEW DELHI, India, AP

A year ago, George W. Bush couldn’t name the leader of India or Pakistan when faced with a reporter’s pop quiz during the campaign.

Now the two countries, whose bitter rivalry over disputed Kashmir resounds worldwide because both have tested nuclear weapons, are wondering what a Bush presidency will mean for the subcontinent.

Indian leaders, charmed last March when Democrat Bill Clinton became the first U.S. president to visit the country in more than 20 years, are hoping a year of unprecedented warmth in relations will continue under Bush despite U.S. concerns about nuclear arms.

Pakistani officials, meanwhile, hope a Republican administration will be more sympathetic. But the country, run by a military chief after a bloodless coup in 1999, is at odds with Washington over its nuclear effort and over neighboring Afghanistan’s Taliban militia.

The hostile relationship between India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars since 1947, is likely remain a major U.S. foreign policy concern.

Under Clinton, Washington has pushed both countries to sign a global treaty banning nuclear tests. The United States has signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty but not ratified it, and Bush backs the Senate’s rejection of the pact — a position that has won him praise from both India and Pakistan.

“We expect the U.S. will reduce pressure on Pakistan regarding the signing of the CTBT because Republicans themselves are not in favor of this treaty,” said Shireen Mazari, director of the Pakistan’s government-run Institute of Strategic Studies.

Neither Pakistan nor India has signed the treaty, but each has committed to a moratorium on nuclear testing until it comes into force. U.S. sanctions imposed on India after its 1998 tests remain in place.

India’s Cold War ties to the Soviet Union turned Pakistan into Washington’s natural ally, but that has changed since the Soviet collapse and the United States has grown much closer to India.

Clinton exchanged visits this year with Indian Prime Minister Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and economic relations between the world’s most powerful democracy and the world’s most populous democracy have been improving.

Indian officials are cautiously optimistic that ties will strengthen under Bush, whose father was president from 1988-92. During the campaign, the younger Bush spoke to Vajpayee on the phone and said in a speech that the new century would see India’s arrival as a force in the world. “I don’t see any basic change in the U.S. policy toward India,” said former Indian foreign secretary Mani Dixit. “India’s relations with the United States were all right during his father’s presidency.”

In Pakistan, military chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf said last week that he hoped for friendly ties.

“Under the Republicans we don’t expect U.S.-Pakistan relations to deteriorate as they did under the Democrats,” Mazari said. “We expect a shift in nuance.”